The importance of independent businesses in Yeovil
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 March 2020
A small army of independents is passionate about supporting and celebrating its town, discovers CATHERINE COURTENAY on a visit to Yeovil
Spend a day wandering around Yeovil and you'll probably notice the occasional sound of a helicopter flying overhead.
What would be a minor distraction anywhere else holds a greater significance in this South Somerset town, which has an aviation heritage going back to World War One. Originally making seaplanes to support the war effort, Westlands moved into helicopter production and has remained in Yeovil ever since. The name is synonymous with the town, although it's now under the banner of new owner, Leonardo.
When not listening out for helicopters, there are other aspects of the town to uncover. At its heart is the Church of St John the Baptist; the building dates from the 14th century, although there has been a church on the site since Saxon times. Town centre streets wrap around the church and contain many of the high street names you'd expect. There are also the usual empty shop fronts that sadly characterise many modern town centres; but it's well worth investigating further and digging a little deeper because Yeovil has a small but passionate army of independents whose roots appear to be as firm as the history that surrounds them.
In March last year, 'zero waste' shop Take No Wrap opened in The Quedam shopping centre. The idea to set up an eco-friendly shop in Yeovil came from friends Lin Budzynski and Liz Kleve. They sell food items in large dispensers, so people can bring their own containers to fill up. They have many locally-made products for sale, from beeswax wrappers for food (an alternative to cling film) to coffee and tea, toiletries, candles and crafts.
Everything fits in with the shop's eco-friendly ethos and there's a strong educational strand too. Liz and Lin are on hand with plenty of information for customers and a large area at the back of the shop is used for workshops, charity events and clothes swaps.
"We want to make it as accessible as possible," says Lin. "There is so much knowledge and creativity out there."
They have recently started a partyware hire service, supplying all the bits and bobs that would otherwise be bought and thrown away, like plates and cups, cutlery and bunting.
Lin says that help from the Quedam management team has been invaluable. "They understand the change in the high street and support the independents."
Lin and Liz are also starting a new quarterly local produce market in the Quedam. Selling mainly food and drinks, the first was due to take place on 8 Feb with the second on 9 May.
The Emporium is a collection of independent retailers based in one building in Princes Street. It's filled with crafts, antiques, homewares and vintage items, laid out over three floors and it has a very popular cafe at its heart.
Keen to work with the town's businesses, Emporium director Dawn Woodward has also provided workshop and office space. Hidden away on the top floor is The Temple, a healing centre run by Tina Booth, which offers all manner of therapies and treatments, from meditation to art therapy and reflexology.
The Emporium's café is also the venue for acoustic music nights, supporting Yeovil's strong music tradition. Very few towns can boast having a music shop, but Waterloo Music in Hendford not only provides instruments and accessories but also has a repair and maintenance service and hosts music lessons.
There's a strong self-help ethic, seen in projects like Love Yeovil, a business-led initiative, working with the authorities to promote the town. Then there is Yeovil Creatives, which puts on exhibitions and events, often working with the Quedam Centre and The Hub. Likewise, The Hub, a charity which supports people with learning disabilities, is a key part of the community, with its own family-friendly café at its Buckland Road site.
Some independents have roots stretching way back, like Clement White jewellers. There has been a jeweller at the same High Street premises since 1896, with wooden panelling inside dating back to the 1920s. The current owners have been in situ for more than 30 years, and as well as selling jewellery and watches, they also have an onsite repair service.
Launching his business in more recent years is another town centre-based craftsman, picture frame maker Gary Pyner. His hobby doing furniture restoration, coupled with a love of movie posters, led to him developing his skill as a framer and his work is now in demand from local artists and businesses, including Yeovilton and Yeovil Hospital.
He started out by having a space in The Emporium, from where he sold genuine film posters, framing them in his garden workshop at home. "People started queuing up at the house for framing," he says, and business grew, leading to him moving into his own shop, also in Princes Street.
"I think people are looking for an experience. It's all well and good to order online but people like to feel there is a service they are getting."
Gary is passionate about the town he moved to seven years ago and says the appetite for shopping local and reviving the town centre is evident.
He says that when he opened his shop locals were popping in to wish him good luck and: "Just two days ago, a guy came in and shook my hand and was literally banging the desk saying how brilliant it was to have shops like this in town."
"Yeovil is a great town."
THINGS TO DO IN YEOVIL
A walk in the park: Not many towns have this amount of parkland. Yeovil Country Parks are Green Flag award-winning sites, including Ninesprings, Summerhouse Hill, Wyndham Hill, Penn Hill Park and Riverside Walk. Have coffee and cake at Ninesprings Café (four legged friends will be made very welcome) and then stroll along the path following the waterways through the park. If you're lucky you'll spot some of the gorgeous and very rare water voles that have made their home here.
Taste some beer: Just outside Yeovil at Lufton is Yeovil Ales Brewery. Founded by father and son Dave and Rob Sherwood in 2005, it brews a range of real ales as well as occasional and sessional brews and has won plenty of awards. It runs regular brewery tours with tastings. Yeovil also has its own beer festival where you can try more than 100 craft cask ales and ciders with live music at Westlands on 24 and 25 April.
Fabulous furniture: Yeovil is good for furniture and homewares retail, being home to established companies like The Old Creamery, a family-run furniture company and kitchens showroom. Fit and Furnish, which was set up in 2000 and has its showroom in the town, offers yet more furniture choices and it's worth mentioning that regional success story West Country Windows has its head office in Yeovil. Set up back in 1977 it's still owned and run by the people who started it.
Be entertained: Yeovil is well served for arts venues, with the Octagon Theatre offering a mix of professional and amateur productions and its sister site, Westlands Entertainment Venue, a wide variety of arts and sports events, as well as film screenings. The town also has a 10 screen Cineworld cinema and The Swan theatre, described as 'one of the best equipped little theatres in the West of England', grew out of an old pub and puts on six productions a year, as well as National Theatre Live screenings. Yeovil also has its own radio station; Radio Ninesprings is a community station which broadcasts across South Somerset.
Portrait of the past: The National Trust-owned Montacute House is an Elizabethan manor house about four miles from Yeovil. It has superb gardens and grounds but the collection of Tudor and Elizabethan portraits, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery and displayed in Montacute's famous Long Gallery, are worth the visit alone.